Former NBA Chicago Bulls Guardian Michael Jordon held the crowd high during pre-race ceremonies prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 22, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.
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It was an interesting week for Michael Jordan.
The sports icon and owner of Charlotte Hornets took on a stake in and a board position at sports betting firm DraftKings and recently became a new team owner at NASCAR.
On Monday, Jordan announced his race ownership after purchasing the team charter from Germain Racing. Jordan is the first black majority owner of a full-time racing team in the NASCAR series since legendary driver Wendell Scott.
Longtime driver Denny Hamlin is a minority owner of the nameless single-car team, and Wallace agreed to become the team's driver in the NASCAR Cup series. The terms of the purchase of Jordan and Wallace's multi-year contract were not made available.
Dr. Brett Boyle, a marketing professor at Saint Louis University, praised Jordan's commitment to NASCAR, adding that the Jordan-Wallace partnership could mimic Tiger Woods' influence on the game of golf.
"You saw younger people take an interest in golf," Boyle said, referring to the diverse fan growth of the PGA Tour when Woods dominated the sport.
"When someone sees someone like her in a sport, they think about how they play that sport," said Boyle. "This can increase the minority stake in [NASCAR]."
Boyle said Jordan's move could be critical for NASCAR as the organization continues to break down denouncing the Confederate flag and continues to seek to diversify its fan base.
"They've had trouble expanding beyond southern white men for about 20 years," said Boyle, also director of SportMetric, a sports marketing and research consultancy.
"To have Michael Jordan's brand and personality behind a team is not only going to attract younger fans, but also African American and other minority groups," he said.
Bubba Wallace, driver of the # 43 Victory Junction Chevrolet, waits in association with the Rodale Institute at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, ahead of the NASCAR Cup Series Pocono Organics 325 on June 27, 2020.
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images
In a press release announcing the move, Jordan was excited to become a NASCAR team owner and mentioned his fight against diversity.
"The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR evolves and welcomes social change," Jordan said after the death of George Floyd in May.
Wallace was the key figure behind NASCAR's attempt to ban the Confederate flag. In June, he sent shock waves through the sport after urging officials to prevent spectators from racing the flag.
Wallace, who recently split from Richard Petty Motorsports before joining Jordan, became the face of the NASCAR movement to fight social injustice and helped raise awareness about the sport.
NASCAR has seen a steady decline in television viewers over the years, and the departures of notable drivers including Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. It drew more than 6 million viewers to its Darlington race in May, won by driver Kevin Harvick, but is still struggling as consumer habits change.
With a prominent black driver mixed in with a notable sports icon and one who has a degree of credibility for being from North Carolina and being a NASCAR fan, Boyle referred to the Jordan-Hamlin-Wallace team as "a Game Changer "in NASCAR's pursuit of expansion.
If successful, Boyle said Jordan’s influence would also attract "new sponsors who have not invested in NASCAR" in recent years.
Jordan has already built brand relationships through top companies including its Jordanian brand Nike, Pepsi, which owns Gatorade, and now DraftKings. That could only help his NASCAR team to win other sponsorships.
And Wallace has also attracted its fair share of sponsorships from DoorDash, Columbia Sportswear, and Square's Cash App.
A person familiar with NASCAR's plans and speaking with CNBC said Jordan's new team is "checking a lot of boxes" for sponsors looking to adapt to social change. The person discussed the matter on condition that they remain anonymous as they were not allowed to speak publicly about the new team.
"If you're a company, wouldn't you want to support Michael Jordan and Bubba Wallace as they try to encourage positive change?" said the person. "What better thing can you invest in?"
To put a competitive car in NASCAR, the annual cost could exceed $ 20 million. Sponsorships can help, as a top car can cost $ 400,000 or more to build. Between paying a crew, traveling, tires, and other vehicle maintenance, a team could spend $ 1 million per race. Boyle said the annual cost could reach $ 30 million.
But Boyle mentioned Jordan's competitive nature when discussing why funding wouldn't be an issue.
"If you know anything about Michael Jordan as a businessman, he's not just going to rob money or something that will get his name out," Boyle said. "He would only do such a project with the intention of winning."
Boyle also predicted that top brands would "be the first sponsor of the [Jordanian] team. If he endorses a product, he's very loyal to that product. I would imagine loyalty will be returned."
# 43 Victory Junction Chevrolet driver Bubba Wallace and NASCAR Hall of Famer and team owner Richard Petty watch as NASCAR driver Wallace topped the grid as a show of solidarity with the driver ahead of the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on June 22, 2020 in Talladega, Alabama.
Chris Graythen | Getty Images
Challenges are waiting for you
Money aside, for those familiar with the inner workings of NASCAR, Hamlin will be vital to Jordan and Wallace's quest to dominate the sport. Hamlin, who currently drives the # 11 car for Joe Gibbs Racing, brings a lot of knowledge and racing expertise to the table.
Hamlin's minority stake in the team during the race with Gibbs should also not lead to conflict. The deal has been likened to legendary driver Dale Earnhardt's decision to create his team – the DEI racing team – while he was still racing for Richard Childress Racing.
And Hamlin is needed to recruit crew talent and guide NASCAR regulations and policies for Jordan's team.
"It only makes sense now to lay the foundation for my racing career after I'm done driving and also help an aspiring driver like Bubba take his career to a higher level," Hamlin said in a statement. "In addition, Michael and Bubba can be a strong voice together, not only in our sport, but also far beyond."
However, forming a NASCAR team will come with its challenges. Unlike the NBA, Jordan is not the king of the sport and will meet more experienced and knowledgeable teams.
Competing against the teams led by Childress, Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick will "take time," said Boyle. However, given Jordan's cult status, attracting crew talent may not be a difficult task.
"I don't want to be out there just to be another car," Jordan said in an interview with the Charlotte Observer. "I think Bubba feels the same way, and Denny definitely has this year. We got the right people involved. Now we need to get the right equipment. The right information and data. Give Bubba his best chance to win." . "